TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State football coach Trent Miles has stated that he prefers a balanced approach when it comes how the Sycamores run their offense.
But he’s also never hesitated to want to define his teams as smash-mouth if the label fit.
More so than ever, the label fits this season for the 15th-ranked Sycamores.
ISU has become more reliant on the run as the season has progressed and the running game has defined ISU’s offense in a way that it hadn’t since 2009, the year before Ronnie Fouch began his two-year stint at quarterback.
The numbers don’t lie. ISU has ran the ball 328 times to 195 pass attempts. ISU has gained 70 first downs via the run, versus 52 through the air. ISU ranks 95th in the nation in total offense, but ranks 42nd in rushing. The Sycamores have averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
Given that standout Shakir Bell — and his 1,156 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns — occupies the backfield it stands to reason that ISU would rely on its ground game.
“We get as excited in our unit meetings about a pancake block or a seal block as the defensive guys get when [Aaron] Archie or [Jacolby] Washington blow someone up. We love seeing our little guy run. It’s a great feeling,” ISU right tackle Casey Paswater said.
But its been different this year than it has been in past years for both Bell and the ISU running game. In his first two seasons, Bell did a lot of his damage outside the tackles, or, he began his run inside the tackles and made a quick cut to the outside against a defense caught unaware by Bell’s lightning speed and surprising strength.
Now that defenses have adjusted for that, Bell has done more of his damage in four or five-yard chunks between the tackles. It’s been punishing for Bell at times, but its been effective.
Bell craves contact and helps define ISU’s smash- mouth ways, but the support he’s getting from his line and blockers is what’s defined the way ISU has carried itself offensively this season.
“[Bell] motivates me. If I can get my block, and the guys next to me do their job, this guy can run all day. If you make one hole, he can do all kinds of stuff,” fullback Austen Wozniak said.
Wozniak, a redshirt junior, took over at fullback for four-year starter Brock Lough this season. A former linebacker — Wozniak had an 11-tackle game against Missouri State in 2009 and has three career sacks — Wozniak has been a quick study at fullback.
He’s starting to get the ball a bit more himself too. Wozniak had three carries in ISU’s 23-7 win over Western Illinois last Saturday and three receptions. The six touches were the most Wozniak’s ever had in a single game.
He’s gained 27 rushing yards on eight carries in 2012 and has eight receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown. But Wozniak knows where his bread is buttered.
“I’ve always been a good blocker. I came over from defense, so I’ve always been a smash-mouth guy. I’m just trying to earn my trust as far as getting the ball. I haven’t dropped any passes. I just want those three or four yards to grind out,” he said.
ISU’s offensive line has also done its part to fuel the Sycamores’ running game, despite the fact its rarely had the same unit on the field for any one game.
The Sycamores have had six different combinations start on the offensive line in eight games — and that doesn’t take into account starting center FN Lutz’s knee injury that has him sidelined for the entire season.
The only two positions on the line that have remained constant have been left tackle Paul Patrick and right tackle Paswater.
“We mixed and matched throughout camp, so we got a head-start on playing guys at different position. We have guys who can play multiple positions, which really helps, because we can shuffle and everybody still feels comfortable,” Paswater said.
This has been true at the guard spots where Nick Rice and Justin Wood have started at both guard positions. Starting center Evan Borchers has also been spelled twice by Olle Norberg.
“Coach [Harold] Etheridge [ISU offensive coordinator and line coach] teaches that smash- mouth mentality. He prides himself on having a physical offensive line. Plus, it’s easy to block when you have great skill guys like Shakir and Mike [Perish, ISU quarterback] back there. We know they’ll make the big play if we keep the other team off them long enough,” Paswater said.
n Underwood honored — ISU freshman linebacker Connor Underwood was named to the College Football Performance Awards freshman watch list on Wednesday.
Underwood has 33 tackles and five sacks.